Alex Rodriguez has been living on borrowed time this week, a stay negotiated with Hal Steinbrenner, the parting gift from a Yankees team anxious for him to move on. But that doesn’t mean A-Rod can’t appreciate the small things before his exit, and his last visit to Fenway Park in a Yankees uniform produced some memorable snapshots, including career RBI No. 2,085 in Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the Red Sox.
Rodriguez made his major-league debut at age 18 in the shadow of the Green Monster, but yesterday was the first time he stepped behind the wall for a tour. During each at-bat, he said he tried to suppress the flashbacks, the high-stakes showdowns with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, to name a few.
All that remained was one final opportunity to chase that feeling, and Rodriguez got it in the eighth inning when Brad Ziegler intentionally walked Chase Headley to load the bases. Amid the increasing boos, A-Rod barely got his bat on a 2-and-2 slider from the sidearming Ziegler for a 12-foot tapper that added an insurance run. “Kind of a funny hit at the end,” he said. “Not how I pictured it when I woke up this morning.”
Then again, probably nothing this week has unfolded as A-Rod imagined.
Yesterday, the eve of his final game in pinstripes, he revealed that he had asked Joe Girardi if he could play third base in that last start in the Bronx. The answer was an unequivocal no. “I thought it would have been fun,” he said.
And that was A-Rod’s first mistake, believing — if only for a few minutes — that this was supposed to be some emotional goodbye, a sentimental farewell. We figured he was smarter than that. The nanosecond he forgot, the manager quickly reminded him, coldly. “He hasn’t done any work,” Girardi said. “And we’re still in the business of trying to win games here.”
Maybe that’s why A-Rod casually took grounders at third earlier in the week during batting practice, knowing that it wasn’t going to happen in a real game, at least not in these final hours for the Yankees. Thinking back on that now, it’s hard not to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for him.
After pulling in more than $314 million from the Steinbrenners and logging 1,193 games at third, Rodriguez had to beg for one more night there. And the request was denied.
Girardi didn’t completely rule out A-Rod’s winding up at his former position in some minimal capacity Friday night, maybe in a blowout. “I told him that,” Girardi said. “But for this team, for this organization, for what we’re trying to do, it’s tough to do.”
We’re all quite familiar with the Yankees’ company line by now as it pertains to Rodriguez, even if the language hasn’t really matched up with the on-field execution this week. A-Rod couldn’t crack the starting lineup Tuesday or Wednesday because he was batting .204 with a .609 OPS (we’re paraphrasing). Then he found himself not only starting — as Girardi had promised — but batting in the cleanup spot.
There’s no doubt that Rod riguez has been dealing with some conflicting emotions. This is not the way one of the sport’s all-time rock stars would prefer to be treated, but it was just another reminder for A-Rod that this week was never meant to be a going-away party. More a Steinbrenner-orchestrated dismissal to sell tickets and generate TV ratings, which it did. “He’s always been the lightning rod,” Girardi said. “That’s who he is. And that’s never going to change.”
Rodriguez isn’t going to get the tear-jerker ending of a Mariano Rivera, who was last retrieved from the mound by his Core Four pals, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. It’s partly because the Yankees’ season isn’t over, nor is their pursuit of the wild card. But it’s also because of the fact that Rodriguez is too damaged an icon and made too many enemies, even within the Yankees’ chain-of-command.
“I’m grateful that Hal gave me an opportunity to finish on Friday,” he said. “I’ll get a chance to say goodbye to our great fans, and that’s where my focus is.”
That’s all that’s left for him — with the Yankees, anyway.